Communication — 29 October 2003
How to communicate your needs to your partner

Let’s start with a true or false quiz:

“If you really love me, you should know what I want and need most of the
If you answered true, you are in for relationship disappointments. If
you answered false, you understand that the nature of love _ does not
include the ability to read minds.

Many people believe that love contains the intuitive knowledge of the
partner’s wishes at all times. The reason for this myth is because in

childhood our parents did, at times, identify our needs and attended to
them even without being asked. A tired child who rubbed his eyes was
soon escorted to his bed. A sick looking child was responded to with
medical and nurturing care. Children are unaware of non-verbal
communication, and thus erroneously assume that the parents, who love
them, can read their minds.

If parents know what we need because they love us, shouldn’t our
partners be blessed with the same intuitive sense?
Once this false association between love and knowing another’s wishes is
established, mistaken conclusions follow.

What is true about the relationship between love and the ability to
identify your partner’s needs is – that when couples communicate their
needs to each other – patterns of preferences become known. That is not
to say that open spouses are able to “know” their mates_ preferences at
any given moment.

In order to be tuned into each other’s emotional state, couples need to
develop a healthy pattern of communication. They need to ask each other
about their needs and state their own preferences clearly, avoiding the
following communication errors.

Some people tend to criticize their partners rather than state their
request. “Why can’t you pay the bills on time?” is said rather than “I
get very anxious about late bills. It would makes me feel better if we
got the bills paid on time-how can I help you?” The speaker articulated
her need and even offered to cooperate in achieving her goal. A factual,
non-accusatory style serves couples best.

The speaker’s presentation of her needs, not the partner’s failure is
the better way to deliver a message. “You always leave the door
unlocked” may be wisely rephrased “I feel scared when the door is left
unlocked.” The latter wording may motivate him to lock the door out of
concern for her comfort.

Asking for help as a favor, not as an expectation or a command, is
another way to getting your needs met. “It is time that you picked up
the kids from practice for a change”, is less effective than” It would
help me greatly if you would pick up the children today, since I have a
late meeting.”

Entitlement to any act by a partner is arrogant. Human behavior is most
successful, when it is done willingly. Consider your partner’s helpful
behavior as a gift of love. To elicit those acts of loving-kindness each
partner needs to be clear and humble in his requests.

Some couples find it very difficult to ask directly for what they need.
They may fear having their wishes denied. They may worry about having
their need discounted, (“why do you need time to yourself- what do you
do all day?”) They may fear that their request would be withheld as a
form of punishment, (“You rag on me when I go with the guys and now you
want a girls_ night out?”) They may feel insecure about their right to
ask for assistance. (“How can I ask him to help with the housework, when
he works so hard all day?”) They may even feel that loving partners
should give to their mates and ask for little in return.

These and many other reasons may inhibit couples from expressing their
needs. Unfortunately, those couples who do not express their needs are
more likely to become unhappy and resentful than those who state their
wishes more openly.

“Testing” your partner to see if he knows what you really want for your
birthday or anniversary is a set up for mutual disappointments. You are
wiser to help your mate know what type of gift you desire. This allows
him to become a successful giver and helps you become a delighted receiver.

For successful need fulfillment, the requesting mate needs to be
assertive (clear and direct). Asking openly for what you need empowers
your partner in pleasing you.

Aggressiveness and non-assertiveness are detrimental approaches to
healthy relating. Aggressiveness is the expression of entitled demand,
which does not consider the partner’s needs. (“I don’t care how tired
you are, I need to talk to you now and you will listen to me”). A
non-assertive request is the expression of a need by a partner who is
unsure of his right to have it. (“I thought, maybe, if it is not too
much of a problem for you, could you pick this up for me while you are
at the store. But only if it won’t be too much trouble for you. If you
can’t, then it is no big deal.”)
Ineffectual requests are ones in which one partner’s needs are deemed
more important than the other partner’s wishes.

To successfully fulfill each other’s needs, please consider the following:

  • Love does not include mind reading ability.
  • Your partner, who is eager to please you, will be most successful once
    he or she learns of your wishes.
  • Assertively express your need-while being respectful of your partner.
  • Ask for the help you need and appreciate your partner’s cooperation.
  • Avoid aggressive or non-assertive requests.
  • Ask your partner how you can help him or her.
  • Honor your mate’s requests lovingly for a mutually satisfying

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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